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Hello! I’m Anjali. I’m a board certified health coach, author, wife, mom and food lover from the SF Bay area (now living in Seattle, WA!); with a passion for delicious food and a desire to make healthy eating easy, tasty and fun! Learn more about me here and stay for a while!

Anjali Shah

Healthy Mac and Cheese (Recipe Makeover)

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Healthy Mac and Cheese is the comfort food you have been craving! It’s so creamy and decadent, and is filled with whole wheat macaroni, veggies, and a rich, cheesy sauce. It’s lower in calories and fat than your typical mac and cheese recipe, but still super satisfying and absolutely delicious!

healthy mac and cheese with broccoli served in a white bowl

Who says that comfort food has to be unhealthy? I have found with playing around with the ingredients; you can create a homestyle healthier mac and cheese that tastes similar to like it did when you were growing up.

Trust me, if you have been on the hunt for a healthier version of mac and cheese, you have found it and are going to love this recipe!

Latest Recipe Video!

Don’t get me wrong, traditional mac and cheese is a great once-in-a-while-guilty-pleasure sort of dish.

But I was tired of only having mac & cheese in moderation. I wanted to make it a full dinner, but without the extra fat and calories of the original. You should be able to have true comfort food every night of the week!

This recipe is kid-friendly and perfect for the whole family. Everyone is going to love you for making this healthy mac and cheese recipe!

Tools and Equipment You’ll Need

Recipe Ingredients and Notes

healthy mac and cheese ingredients
  • Pasta: Whole wheat pasta instead of white pasta increases the whole grains and fiber without losing any of the starchy goodness of traditional pasta.
  • Veggies: I used broccoli florets and baby spinach, but you can use any veggies you enjoy!
  • Spices: Garlic, garlic powder, salt, pepper and crushed red pepper all add tons of flavor without any additional calories.
  • Milk: Low fat milk provides decadence while lowering calories and fat.
  • Flour: All purpose flour helps to make a roux.
  • Cheese: I like the combination of sharp cheddar and parmesan, but you can use any shredded cheeses you like.
  • Dijon Mustard: To enhance the flavor of the cheese sauce, but omit if you’re not a fan of mustard!

How to Make Healthy Mac and Cheese – Step by Step Instructions

Step 1: Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Cook pasta according to package directions.

macaroni pasta cooked

Step 2: Add frozen (or fresh) broccoli to a pan over medium heat, saute with minced garlic, crushed red pepper, and a pinch of salt until slightly tender. Add kale/spinach towards the end and cook until the greens are wilted.

broccoli and garlic sauteeing in a pot

Step 3: Meanwhile, heat 1.5 cups milk in another large pot over medium-high heat until just simmering. Whisk the remaining 1/4 cup milk, flour, garlic powder, salt and pepper in a small bowl until combined. Add the flour mixture to the simmering milk; return to a simmer and cook, whisking constantly, until the mixture is thickened, 2 to 3 minutes.

cheese sauce cooking on the stovetop

Step 4: Remove from the heat and whisk in Cheddar, Parmesan and mustard until the cheese is melted. Drain the pasta and add to the cheese sauce. Add your veggies into the pasta mixture.

cheese sauce combined with macaroni

Step 5: Heat through (on low heat) until everything is combined.

mac and cheese cooking on the stovetop

Step 6: Serve warm, topped with crushed red pepper (if you like a bit of extra spice in your mac and cheese) and enjoy!

healthy mac and cheese with broccoli served in a white bowl

What Makes This Mac and Cheese Healthy?

Is traditional mac and cheese healthy? Unfortunately, no, due to the refined carbs, high fat ingredients, and lack of vegetables. But with a few simple swaps, this healthier mac and cheese really is good for you! Here are a few ways this mac and cheese recipe is healthier than the traditional version:

  • Low Calorie: Most traditional mac and cheese recipes have over 500 calories per serving! But this low calorie mac and cheese has only about 270 calories per serving. 
  • Vitamins and Minerals: Lots of tasty vitamins and minerals can be found in this healthy mac and cheese. Folate, copper, calcium, vitamin C, and vitamin B6 are just a few of the nutrients!
  • Protein: Another valuable reason to load up on this healthier mac and cheese is the protein content. It has 14 grams of protein!

How to Make Healthy Mac and Cheese for Kids

Kids pretty much eat any kind of macaroni and cheese in my experience. But when you start to add veggies in, that can be challenging for some kids, and especially for picky eaters!

This healthy mac and cheese is pretty kid-friendly in general. But for kids who will reject anything green, here are my suggestions:

  • Make this mac and cheese without the broccoli and spinach, and serve that to your child to start. Every time you make it, add just a small amount more of the green veggies to help them get used to it.
  • Chop up the broccoli and spinach super super fine, so that it is much smaller to see and pick out!
  • Replace the broccoli and spinach for veggies that blend more into the mac & cheese like butternut squash or cauliflower (and cut them up fine).
healthy mac and cheese with broccoli served in a white bowl

Recipe FAQs

How Do You Make This Healthy Mac and Cheese Recipe Gluten-Free?

It’s super easy to make gluten-free mac and cheese! Just use your favorite gluten-free pasta and replace the all purpose flour with a gluten-free flour blend.

Can You Freeze This Low Calorie Mac and Cheese?

While technically, yes, you can freeze this mac and cheese, I’ve found that it just doesn’t taste the same when you reheat it. So I recommend storing it in the fridge for 3-4 days and eating it the same week you make it!

What’s The Best Type of Cheese for Mac & Cheese?

I’m partial to the traditional sharp cheddar when making macaroni and cheese. It has a low melting point, so it keeps the sauce super smooth. Sharp cheddar also has a nice strong flavor – which gives the sauce that richness you’d expect!

How to Store and Keep

To Store: Make sure your mac and cheese has cooled completely. Transfer to an airtight container and refrigerate. It will last in the fridge for 3-4 days. 

To Reheat: Place the mac & cheese in a microwave-safe bowl. Reheat in the microwave until hot (about 1-2 minutes). You may need to add a little bit of milk if it’s become a bit dry.

forkful of healthy mac and cheese

Recipe Variations and Substitutions

There are so many ways to mix up this healthy mac and cheese recipe! Here are a few of our favorites mix-ins and substitutions:

  • Change Up The Veggies: Try shredded carrots, peas, finely chopped cauliflower, roasted butternut squash, or caramelized onions.
  • Add Some Heat: In addition to crushed red pepper, try adding some hot sauce for an even bigger kick!
  • Try New Spices: Everything bagel seasoning, paprika, nutmeg, onion powder, or oregano all taste great with mac and cheese.
  • Try A Different Cheese: Instead of sharp cheddar and parmesan, try gouda, gruyère, cream cheese, brie or goat cheese.
  • Make it Vegan: Use a plant based milk, and your favorite dairy free cheese.
  • Make it Gluten Free: Use gluten free or legume based pasta. The legume based pasta will also give you added protein!

Top Tips For Making Healthy Macaroni and Cheese

  • If you decide to use a different cheese, make sure it’s a cheese that melts well. That is where the mac and cheese get its creaminess. 
  • You can use fresh or frozen broccoli, and they both work well. 
  • Be sure to whisk constantly, so the cheese sauce mixture doesn’t burn and stick to the pan.
  • Mac and cheese tastes best when it’s served immediately, since that is when the sauce is at it’s creamiest point!
  • For the best cheese sauce, buy a block of cheese and grate your own! It melts much better than the pre-shredded variety.

Check Out These Other Incredible Pasta Recipes!

healthy mac and cheese with broccoli served in a white bowl

If you have tried this Healthy Mac and Cheese or any other recipe on my blog, then please rate it and let me know how it turned out in the comments below! You can also FOLLOW ME on FACEBOOK, TWITTER, INSTAGRAM, and PINTEREST to see more delicious, healthy, family friendly food!

healthy mac and cheese with broccoli served in a white bowl
Print Recipe
5 from 6 votes

Healthy Mac and Cheese

Healthy Mac and Cheese is the comfort food you have been craving! It’s so creamy and decadent, and is filled with whole wheat macaroni, veggies, and a rich, cheesy sauce. It's lower in calories and fat than your typical mac and cheese recipe, but still super satisfying and absolutely delicious!
Prep Time20 mins
Cook Time20 mins
Total Time40 mins
Course: Main Course
Cuisine: American
Servings: 6 servings
Calories: 268.1kcal
Author: Anjali Shah

Ingredients

  • 8 ounces whole-wheat elbow noodles (2 cups)
  • 10 ounce package frozen chopped broccoli or fresh broccoli florets – cut small
  • 10 oz bag of baby spinach or baby kale optional
  • 2-3 cloves fresh garlic minced
  • cups 1% milk divided
  • 3 tablespoons All Purpose flour
  • ½ teaspoon garlic powder
  • ½-1 teaspoon salt
  • ¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
  • ¾ cup shredded extra-sharp Cheddar cheese
  • ¼ cup shredded Parmesan cheese
  • ¼-½ teaspoon Dijon mustard omit if you don’t like the flavor of mustard
  • ⅛-¼ tsp crushed red pepper optional

Instructions

  • Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Cook pasta according to package directions.
  • Add frozen (or fresh) broccoli to a pan over medium heat, saute with minced garlic, crushed red pepper, and a pinch of salt until slightly tender. Add kale/spinach towards the end and cook until the greens are wilted.
  • Meanwhile, heat 1½ cups milk in another large pot over medium-high heat until just simmering. Whisk the remaining 1/4 cup milk, flour, garlic powder, salt and pepper in a small bowl until combined. Add the flour mixture to the simmering milk; return to a simmer and cook, whisking constantly, until the mixture is thickened, 2 to 3 minutes.
  • Remove from the heat and whisk in Cheddar, Parmesan and mustard until the cheese is melted.
  • Drain the pasta and add to the cheese sauce. Add your veggies into the pasta mixture, and heat through (on low heat) until everything is combined.
  • Optional: Sprinkle some black pepper on top before serving.

Video

https://youtu.be/HvRlovl1IYY

Notes

Recipe Variations and Substitutions
There are so many ways to mix up this healthy mac and cheese recipe! Here are a few of our favorites mix-ins and substitutions:
  • Change Up The Veggies: Try shredded carrots, peas, finely chopped cauliflower, roasted butternut squash, or caramelized onions.
  • Add Some Heat: In addition to crushed red pepper, try adding some hot sauce for an even bigger kick!
  • Try New Spices: Everything bagel seasoning, paprika, nutmeg, onion powder, or oregano all taste great with mac and cheese.
  • Try A Different Cheese: Instead of sharp cheddar and parmesan, try gouda, gruyère, cream cheese, brie or goat cheese.
  • Make it Vegan: Use a plant based milk, and your favorite dairy free cheese.
  • Make it Gluten Free: Use gluten free or legume based pasta. The legume based pasta will also give you added protein!
Top Tips For Making Healthy Macaroni and Cheese
  • If you decide to use a different cheese, make sure it’s a cheese that melts well. That is where the mac and cheese get its creaminess. 
  • You can use fresh or frozen broccoli, and they both work well. 
  • Be sure to whisk constantly, so the cheese sauce mixture doesn’t burn and stick to the pan.
  • Mac and cheese tastes best when it’s served immediately, since that is when the sauce is at it’s creamiest point!
  • For the best cheese sauce, buy a block of cheese and grate your own! It melts much better than the pre-shredded variety.

Nutrition

Calories: 268.1kcal | Carbohydrates: 39.9g | Protein: 14.1g | Fat: 6.3g | Saturated Fat: 4g | Cholesterol: 18.4mg | Sodium: 544.9mg | Potassium: 233.4mg | Fiber: 6.5g | Sugar: 5.3g

Posted In…

Pasta ·

Whether it’s a high-protein pasta salad or a gluten-free primavera, this versatile ingredient is a staple for easy, delicious meals. If you’re feeling ambitious, you can even make homemade fettuccine the classic Italian way!

64 responses to “Healthy Mac and Cheese (Recipe Makeover)”

    • Hi Julie! I personally haven’t tried Banza specifically, but in general I love lentil and legume based pastas because they have way more protein and most of the brands have the same mouthfeel as regular pasta! Each brand will have a slightly different texture and flavor, so I’d say try Banza and if you don’t like it, then try a different legume based pasta! Hope that helps!

  1. Best. Mac’n’Cheese. Ever.
    I always liked the gooey-ness and creaminess of M&C, but it somehow always felt too heavy and over-flavored. This sauce with less cheese and light milk is so much better, still flavorful and creamy, but not overpowering and goes very well with the veggies (I used broccoli and cauliflower and a small diced jalapeno for extra kick). Plus this is sooo easy to make and super filling! Will totally be added to my “quick-but-yummy-weeknight-meals”-list 😀

    • Woohoo! That is awesome Julia – I’m so happy to hear that! Love the addition of the jalapeño and cauliflower too!

  2. Its almost the end of lent and I was getting tired of the same boring meals when I stumbled upon this gem of recipe. It was so yummy! I also added some diced up zucchini and squash because they were on hand and I needed to use them up.
    By the way, I love all your pictures of food! They all look so good that it motivates me to eat clean!

    • Oh great!! I love the idea of adding some diced zucchini and squash to this recipe too 🙂 Thanks for letting me know, and I’m so happy that my recipes and photos are motivating you to eat healthier!

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